The world's greatest authority on ants started out collecting snakes and black widow spiders. His book is ostensibly for a young scientist contemplating a career, but the writing is so engaging it becomes an appropriate book for any reader. The only real pre-requisite is an inquiring mind.
And a mind free to fail in mathematics. What a revelation. It's been an article of faith with nearly everyone that real scientists could diagram an equation across a blackboard in one fell swoop. Not so, the world's leading pioneer in biodiversity tells us. Most successful scientists may be, in matters of mathematics, semi literate. And be further re-assured in the knowledge that mathematical ability is partly hereditary. So if you flunked algebra, can you blame mom and dad for not giving you the equation gene? Time for the inconvenient truth. Missing innate math abilities can be offset by study(yuck) and practice (double yuck). That "F" in geometry might be your fault after all! But who really cares, real mathematical ability is necessary in very few career fields. Teaching, no. Operating a particle accelerator, probably. In short, if you have it flaunt it. If you don't have mathematical fluency, there are fields of scientific inquiry that will welcome you anyway. What a hopeful message.
Wilson next offers common sense advice in career planning. Stay away from the glitz and glitter. If huge grant fundings and famous personalities inhabit your intended career field, avoid it like the plague. This works in selecting restaurants too. In Rutland, Vermont I opened the doors of places teeming with smart, hip well paid up and comers. Closed the door and walked out immediately on the grounds that those people are there to meet and greet. The food is probably overpriced and you will be underfed. Off the main drag however, I stumbled into a place called Kong Chow Fusion. Weird name, no one in the place, a mere 6 people, regulars no doubt, crowded into a corner booth. Something said "this is it." I was right, the place served up the best beef lo mein I've ever eaten.
Passion for a subject trumps skill, according to Wilson, because with passion, you will master the skills. Absent passion, you will flit from field to field adrift, moving where the glitterati go, seeking to draft in behind them and siphon off some of their energy as your own. Avoid this at all costs, Wilson advises.
Now, I can feel the author taking serious heat on this one because on page 170, we get: "however much the humanities enrich our lives... they also limit thought to that which is human." One possible counter argument, the humanities are, as the name implies, the very thing which makes us human. Here we go with science vs art,art vs science. It's a battle the likes of which has been around for centuries. Good luck to anyone with a possible answer, although perhaps we don't even need an answer because this is a book that can take you from the rain forests of the Amazon to the Museum of Natural History in New York in the blink of an eye.